Your personal statement is an important component of your university application, and the sooner you start writing it, the better.
You may believe that your personal statement isn’t as important to universities as your academics and experience, but a strong personal statement can mean the difference between you and another candidate with similar grades.
Sure, your application might not get to the point where it’s a deal breaker. Is it, however, something you wish to take chances with?
Here, we’ll walk you through the steps of planning, writing, and editing a strong personal statement so you can submit it with confidence.
To ensure that the information we’re offering you is sound, we’ve consulted admissions officers from more than 20 UK universities. Throughout this article, look for video interviews and guidance on applying for specific subjects, or check out our personal statement playlist on YouTube.
What is a personal statement?
A personal statement is a key component of your Ucas application, in which you explain why you choose a certain programme and why you think you’ll be successful in it. It’s your chance to stand out among the crowd and land that all-important job offer.
Because you only write one personal statement, which is read by each university to which you apply, it’s critical to highlight common themes or reference the overall skills required for all disciplines if you’re applying for more than one subject (or a combined programme).
Personal statements are especially vital if you’re applying to a highly competitive programme and need to do everything you can to stand out to the admissions committee.
According to Courteney Sheppard, senior customer experience manager at Ucas, your personal statement should be concise “You have complete control over the sole section of the application. Conduct extensive research to exhibit your enthusiasm, curiosity, and desire to learn more about your chosen subject.”
Your personal statement has a character maximum of 4,000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines of 95 characters (including spaces), whichever is shorter. This may appear generous (read: long), but as you get started, you may find that you need to do a lot of editing.
1. Plan what you want to cover
The first thing you must do is devise a strategy. It’s challenging to come up with a personal statement on the spur of the moment. Begin by taking notes and responding to the following questions:
- What do you wish to learn about?
- Why do you wish to learn about it?
- What about you demonstrates that you’re a good fit for pursuing this subject at university? Consider both your personality and your past experiences.
- What are your other passions and abilities?
Write these few points in a style that makes sense to you because they will form the backbone of your personal statement. You may build a simple bulleted list or go all out and utilize a mindmap.
Whatever path you take, your goal remains the same. You want to understand why a university should accept your application for a course.
Getting those facts down on paper isn’t always easy, and some people find that taking notes over time is beneficial. You may try carrying a notebook with you or setting up a phone memo. Keep a notebook handy and scribble down any ideas you have for your personal statement. When you’re thinking about something completely different, inspiration can come more effortlessly.
Take a look at The Student Room for some sample personal statements by university and sample personal statements by subject to get a sense of the type of information you should include.
2. Show off your experience
Some items are worthwhile to include in your personal statement, while others are not.
Your qualifications are firmly in the second camp. You don’t need to discuss these because you’ll be able to go into great detail about them in another area of your personal statement. Don’t squander a single character bragging about your GCSE results; the admissions tutor doesn’t want to read that.
What they really want to know is what you’ve done. Okay, so you have some good grades, but so do many other applicants. What have you done that is unique, that demonstrates that you are passionate about the subject you are applying for?
Consider all of your prior knowledge and expertise in that field. This could be direct work experience if you’re lucky. This is especially true if you’re applying to a more vocational field like medicine or journalism.
However, university faculty understand that acquiring great work experience positions is simpler for some people than it is for others, so broaden your search when thinking about what you’ve done. What about after-school activities? Societies that debate? Do you have a blog or a vlog? What significant skills and experience have you gained elsewhere (for example, through hobbies) that you could apply to your course selection?
Remember, you’re looking for evidence of why you want to study the subject you’ve picked. You aren’t simply writing an essay about what you are studying for your A-levels.
As a guide, here’s what you should include:
- Your enthusiasm for the course. Why do you want to spend three years at university studying this subject?
- What have you done outside of school or college to show that you are interested in this field? Consider events such as fairs/exhibitions, public lectures, or volunteer work that is related to your field.
- Work experience that is relevant (essential for the likes of medicine, not required for non-vocational courses such as English)
- If applicable, skills and traits essential for that career (medicine, nursing and law as obvious examples)
- What special themes have piqued your interest during your present studies?
- Any other interests/hobbies/experiences that are relevant to the subject or ‘going to university’ that you wish to discuss. You should not simply list your hobbies; you should be highly selective and indicate precisely how these activities have benefited you.
- If you’re deferring entry, make plans for a gap year.
3. Be bold about your achievements
Don’t be ashamed of your accomplishments; it won’t help you get into university. It’s time to channel your inner Muhammed Ali and start writing like “I am the greatest.”
Keep it focused and precise. Maintain a professional tone in your writing. However, don’t bury your strengths behind a veil of fake modesty. Your personal statement is a sales pitch; you’re marketing yourself as a great student, and you’ll have to prove it to the reader.
This isn’t something that comes easy to everyone, so if you’re having trouble writing about how awesome you are, it’s time to get some help. Make a list of your attributes with a buddy or two, a family member, a teacher, or anybody you can think of. Getting another person’s opinion on this can help you get some perspective.
Don’t be afraid to speak up. You’re selling your abilities, expertise, and excitement, so make sure they all jump off the page in the way you’ve expressed them.
4. How to start your personal statement
Type your personal statement in a cloud-based word processing programme like Google Docs or Microsoft Word and wait until it’s finished before copying and pasting it into your Ucas application form.
One advantage of doing it this way is that you can easily run spell check. (Please note that Word includes “curly” quotation marks and other characters (such as é or ü) that will not appear on your Ucas form, so proofread it on Ucas before submitting it to ensure that it is exactly how you put it.)
Another significant advantage is that you’ll always have a backup of your work. You could always save your statement in another location if you’re being extra cautious.
Keep in mind that Ucas removes additional spaces (for example, adding spaces to the beginnings of paragraphs as indentation).
Cut to the chase in your first sentence. Why are you interested in taking the course? Don’t waste your time reminiscing about your five-year-old daydreams.
Simply be straightforward and succinct – explain why this training is so important to you in one sentence. Then, in the remainder of your introduction, go into greater detail about your excitement for the course and how you came to the conclusion that this is what you want to pursue for the next three or more years.
Just stay away from the following tired old chestnuts, no matter how you begin your remark. These were the most-used opening words in personal statements for 2018 entrance — they’re cliched beyond belief, so don’t even consider them.
- I’ve (always) been [interested in/fascinated by]… since I was a child.
- I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember…
- I’m interested in this course because…
- I’ve always been fascinated by…
- Throughout my childhood, I’ve always had a fondness for…
- I’m thinking back on my schooling experiences…
- [Subject] is a difficult and time-consuming [career/profession/course]…
- I’ve always excelled in the classroom…
- I’ve always wanted to work in the field of…
- I’ve always been enthusiastic about…
What are the chances that your personal statement will be rejected?
5. Focus your writing on why you’ve chosen that subject
Now that you’ve completed your introduction, it’s time to focus on the rest of the presentation. When using a personal statement template, keep in mind that you must use caution. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of replicating someone else’s style and losing your own voice and individuality in the process.
However, there is a general order to follow that should help you stay in your flow.
Get into any work experience (if you have it) after your first paragraph or two. Discuss extracurricular activities: anything you’ve done that is relevant to the subject can be included here, such as hobbies, interests, or volunteer work. Discuss your career goals – where do you want to go with this course?
Next, demonstrate your interest in your current study. Give particular instances of recent work that you liked. Demonstrate your applicable abilities and traits by describing how you’ve used them previously. Make sure you’re using real-life examples rather than generalizations like “I’m very organized and motivated.” Make an effort to incorporate relevant examples.
After that, say something about yourself as a person. Discuss non-academic activities that you enjoy, but make a connection to the course or how it demonstrates your maturity in dealing with university life.
Bring it all together by bringing your primary ideas together, adding a final focus on your devotion to this course.
6. How long should a personal statement be?
When drafting your personal statement, you must adhere to a strict time constraint. You could utilise up to 4,000 characters in theory, but you’re more likely to be constrained by the line count. Because it’s a good idea to put line breaks between your paragraphs (to make it more readable), and you only receive a total of 47 lines, this is the case. With this in mind, a maximum of 3,500 characters seems more reasonable.
However, while you’re just getting started, you should entirely disregard these restrictions. At first, all you want to do is jot down everything that is significant to you. You’ll almost certainly wind up with something far too long, but that’s okay. This is where you may refine and prune your work.
Keep your essay focused on the course you’re applying for, why you want to do it, and why you’re the best candidate for it. Examine what you’ve written so far to see if you’ve struck the proper balance. Remove anything that rambles, as you want each point to be concise and quick.
7. Keep it simple
It’s not only about reaching a character count when it comes to editing your statement. You must also ensure that your writing is effective in describing why you want to take the course and why you are qualified for it.
The key is to keep things simple. Aim for short, snappy sentences that effectively convey your message. Always keep in mind that you are not writing an essay. What counts is that the facts are conveyed clearly, therefore resist the urge to embellish your writing with flowery words.
As a general rule, spend roughly 60% of your time talking about your course, why you want to pursue it, and how you’re suited to it, 30% on your work experience and any other activities relevant to your subject, and 10% on your career goals.
The way you write your statement depends on your subject; for professional disciplines like medicine and law, people tend to write more about job experience than they would for subjects like math or English, where work experience is less significant.
8. Smart ways to end your personal statement
It might be just as difficult to come up with a good closing line as it is to come up with a good beginning. The goal here is to create a sign-off that is both bold and memorable. The last few phrases of your statement allow you to highlight all of the positive points you’ve already made.
Use this space to make it clear to the reader that you would be an outstanding addition to their university. Bring all of your points together and, most importantly, respond to the primary question that your personal statement should address: why should you be accepted to the course?
9. Make sure your personal statement has no mistakes
Now that you’ve completed your personal statement and are satisfied with it, double-check it for errors.
Check it, double-check it, and then double-check it again.
After you’ve done that, have someone else look it over.
If you submit a personal statement with spelling and/or grammatical problems, you will be doing yourself a huge disservice. You have months to put everything together, so there’s no justification for putting in something that appears to be rushed.
Request that your teachers have a look at it, and be ready to accept their criticism without becoming defensive. They will have heard a lot of personal statements before; use what they say to improve yours. You’ll also get another chance to review the substance of your personal statement here, to ensure that the balance is correct. Make sure your attention is drawn to the subject for which you are applying and why you want to study it.
Do not publish your personal statement on the internet or on social media where it can be seen by anybody. The plagiarism checker at Ucas will detect you. Similarly, don’t copy anything you see on the internet.
Instead, this is an excellent opportunity to make your parents feel valuable. Get them input on your personal statement by reading it to them.
Alternatively, print it out and combine it with a couple others (you can find sample personal statements on The Student Room). Encourage them to read them all and then choose yours. If they can’t, it’s possible that there isn’t enough of you in there.
10. Don’t think about your personal statement for a whole week
You’ve started your personal statement early if you followed the instructions at the beginning of this article. You did an excellent job! You have several months before you must submit it. Take advantage of one of these weeks to entirely forget about your personal statement.
Get on with your life and do whatever you want. Just stay away from your claim. Give it a week, then reopen the document and read it through again with new eyes. You’ll have a whole new perspective on what you’ve written, and you’ll be in a good position to make any necessary modifications.
10 steps to your ideal personal statement
In conclusion, here are the ten steps to writing the great personal statement.
1. Make a strategy. Make a list of everything you wish to talk about.
2. Emphasize your prior experience and interests, and explain how they relate to the course.
3. Don’t be shy about blowing your own horn; don’t be modest about your accomplishments.
4. Begin by stating clearly why you wish to take the course.
5. Make certain that your paper focuses on why you wish to pursue that particular subject.
6. Feel free to write as much as you like in your personal statement; you may always alter it afterwards.
7. Stay away from fancy words. Write clearly and succinctly.
8. Summarize the most essential aspects in your assertion in the last couple of lines.
9. Double-check your work and get it double-checked by someone else.
10. Take a break from your personal statement by forgetting about it for a bit before going over it one last time with fresh eyes.
Personal statement dos and don’ts
Remember that your personal statement isn’t an article about your preferred topic of study; it’s just that. It should inform the reader about you rather than the topic.
Only include topics that you are prepared to discuss during the interviews.
Give more than just “enjoying the subject” as justifications for why you wish to take the course (this should be a given).
Find out as much as you can about the nature of the course and try to make your personal statement relevant to it if you’re applying to a highly competitive programme.
Consider what you’re saying. If you mention something like, “I enjoy reading,” or “I travelled overseas,” explain what you gained from it.
Check your grammar and spelling across the entire document. Make sure you do this at least twice. Even if you aren’t applying to an essay-based programme, a personal statement packed with spelling errors will upset the reader, which is the last thing you want to happen. If you’re having trouble with this, have someone else look it over for you.
Between paragraphs, leave blank lines. When your personal statement is divided down into easily consumable portions, it is easier for the reader to get through it. Keep in mind that they’ll be reading a lot of these! Make it simple to read yours.
Obtain a second opinion on your statement. It’s a good idea to read it out loud to relatives or friends. It’s a good idea to show it to your teacher. Look for input in each place you can, and then act on it.
Don’t write it in the style of a letter. Starting with a greeting like “Dear Sir/Madam” not only looks odd, but it also wastes valuable space.
Don’t joke around. This isn’t the time for them; reserve them for your first night as a member of the union.
Don’t criticize your current school or college, and don’t try to place responsibility on teachers for whatever poor grades you may have received.
Don’t be shy of specifics – if you want your PS to be unique to you, you’ll need to specify exactly which pieces of work, themes, or activities you’ve participated in or loved. It’s far more engaging to read about one or two specific examples than than a paragraph that briefly mentions five or six.
Simply write down what you’re doing right now. You should highlight any experiences that are relevant to the courses you are applying for.
Mention abilities and activities without elaborating on how you displayed them or what you learned from them. While anyone may put in a PS, “I have outstanding leadership skills,” actually utilizing a phrase to discuss when you displayed those qualities is far more rare and valuable.
Refer to events that occurred before to your GCSEs (or equivalent).
Explain any physical or mental health issues you may have. Not your PS, but your reference should clarify this.
Applying for too many courses makes it tough to produce a compelling personal statement to support the application.
Unless you’re only applying to that one university, write a statement that is specific to that institution.
Take the statement from somewhere else and put it here! This means you should avoid plagiarizing. Ucas checks all statements for plagiarism automatically. Ucas workers manually check those that have been highlighted by the computer system. If sections of your statement are found to be plagiarized, the universities to which you apply will be notified, and your applications may be jeopardized.